Some thousands of residents in the vicinity of a tourism complex in the Mekong Delta have grumbled about the immense difficulties they and their guests face in accessing the peak of a mountain nestling at the heart of the complex.
Over the past several months, about 4,000 dwellers in the proximity of the Cam (Forbidden) Mountain, which stands aloft in Tinh Bien District in An Giang Province, have been increasingly vexed as their relatives and friends who come to visit them are stopped by ticket attendants of the Cam Mountain Tourism Complex and could not get through without buying tickets.
The complex draws influxes of pilgrims and tourists around and after Tet (Lunar New Year), which typically come in January or February each year.
Ba Lien, 78, who lives in a residential area at the foot of the Cam Mountain, lamented that four of his nephews from Ho Chi Minh City were requested to buy tickets in order to get through the complex’s entrance when they visited him recently.
Lien’s nephews kept explaining in vain that they were not visiting the mountain as tourists but they were on the way to a death anniversary gathering at Lien’s house.
They even asked Lien to meet them at the entrance, but the attendants were adamant that they had to buy tickets.
Lien’s nephews finally bought four tickets for VND80,000 (US$4) to spare them further troubles.
To add fuel to the fire, since November last year, those living around the Cam Mountain peak have been obliged to obtain permits from the Cam Mountain Tourism Complex management for driving their bikes on the way to the peak.
According to many local residents, such permits are applicable to bike owners only and must be presented every time they are to go past the complex’s entrance.
N.V.L., a former official, who has vehemently blasted the policy to grant permits to bike owners all along, underscored that the tourism complex’s management has put locals in a tough situation.
“My family of five shares a motorbike. With the permit issued to only the bike owner, how about the rest?” he wondered.
Vo Thi Thuy, whose father resides in the Cam Mountain neighborhood, complained that two of their relatives were required to buy tickets after trying futilely to convince the ticket attendants that they were visiting a relative, not doing any sightseeing.
“When the relatives approached a security checkpoint, only over 100 meters from my father’s home, they were stopped again. The security guard insisted they take a “xe om” [motorbike taxi] or the tourism complex’s buses to my father’s place, instead of driving their own bike or going there on foot. The pair left in frustration without dropping by my father’s,” Thuy added.
Other residents are also exasperated by the agonizingly prolonged process it takes to obtain permits in making repairs to their own homes and all the troubles in carrying loads of construction materials to their houses.
Nguyen Van Loi, a local, has waited for almost a year for the local government’s permission for his house repairs.
Concerned that the decaying pillars, which are on the brink of collapse, would jeopardize his family, he took the matters into his own hands and proceeded with the repairs without a license.
He implored truck drivers who were carrying materials to state-invested construction sites in the Cam Mountain to transport his metal sheets, while paying men to carry cement uphill on forest trails at night for VND120,000 ($6) for each sack.
With such painstakingly slow progress, the repairs to Loi’s house remain unfinished now.
Trinh Van Mot, who lives in a residential area atop the mountain, does not fare any better when it comes to seeking house repair licenses.
He has yet to tile his deteriorating cement floor after lodging applications at different grassroots government agencies for almost one year.
Binh, another resident, has been on edge for over one year now as his leaning house is on the verge of collapse at any time.
He does not know when he can obtain the permit and transport construction materials uphill to get his repairs going.
An aerial view of the Cam Mountain.
Le Dinh Ban, who lives atop the Cam Mountain, lamented that even those with permanent residency certificates like him are also stopped by the tourism complex’s staffers at the entrance and asked to clarify their identity.
Residents put such stringent control down to the Cam Mountain Tourism Complex management’s attempts to reap as much profit as possible.
According to several local households, the provincial government built a 10-kilometer asphalt road from the Cam Mountain foot to Van Linh Pagoda in 2007.
The elation at readier access to the mountain was short-lived, however, as An Giang Tourism Co., which managed the Cam Mountain Tourism Complex back then, soon erected an entrance, which also serves as a ticket booth right on the sole way leading up to the mountain.
Explanations of the management
Pham Van Dung, director of the tourism complex’s management, maintained that his staff members have done nothing wrong in checking on people at the entrance and requesting them to buy tickets.
“My staffers can tell residents from visitors and pilgrims with relative ease. We will allow locals through as soon as we can confirm their identity. In reality, many lie that they are on the way to their relatives’ homes atop the mountain just to avoid buying tickets,” he explained.
Dung noted that his management has complied with Tinh Bien District’s decision in granting permits to bike owners who are to drive uphill.
Contrary to what Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reporters were told by locals, Dung maintained that though the passes are issued to bike owners only, their family members can still drive the bikes uphill as long as they have the permits.
He added that the rigorous control over locals’ transport of construction materials uphill for their house repairs is meant to curb rampant unlicensed construction.
Ho Viet Hiep, deputy chair of the An Giang People’s Committee, acknowledged that as the tourism complex is located in a residential area, irreconcilable clashes between tourism development and residents’ lives are almost inevitable.
He pledged to look closely into locals’ grievances.
Nguyen Van Len, director of the provincial Department of Culture, Sports, and Tourism, also promised to work with the complex’s management to make sure only tourists, not locals and their guests, have to buy tickets.
In a similar vein, residents voiced their grievances in early March after the road to the iconic Ba Na Hills in the central city of Da Nang was blocked for two months.
Travelers and locals were left with only one way to reach the top: by using the suspension cable system, with prices for a two-way ticket ranging from VND350,000 ($17) to VND500,000 ($24) each.
This stirred up disagreement among the public, but Da Nang authorities confirmed that they had transferred the management of the area to the Vietnamese investor Sun Group.
The investor built a gate to close road DT602 leading to the hills in An Son Hamlet, Hoa Ninh Commune, Hoa Vang District. This is the route locals have used for decades to reach the peak.
Local residents said the gate was built on the road about four years ago, but entrance was officially blocked in January.
A gate was erected in early March 2015 to close road DT602 leading to the Ba Na hills in An Son Hamlet, Hoa Ninh Commune, Hoa Vang District, located in the central city of Da Nang. This is the route locals have used for decades to reach the peak.
Dang Minh Truong, Sun Group’s CEO, told Tuoi Tre in March that the group’s intention was to deter locals and tourists from taking the road, which saw too much decay, to ensure their safety but the firm did not mean to forbid them altogether from traveling on it.
According to the Saigon Times Online, the barrier was removed on March 17 following strong public reactions.
However, the road has been turned into a construction site under Sun Group’s administration, which poses locals immense difficulty in traveling on it, the Saigon Times Online cited residents as saying.